Rocker Looking For Improvement Up Front

Auburn defensive line coach Tracy Rocker talks about what he's looking for in spring practice.

Auburn, Ala.--With Auburn's most dynamic defensive player Antonio Coleman gone as well as dependable starter Jake Ricks, coach Tracy Rocker has some holes to fill on the front four for the Tigers in spring practice. With experienced players such as Antoine Carter, Nick Fairley, Mike Blanc, Michael Goggans and Zach Clayton to build around, Rocker said he likes the potential, but there is plenty of work to be done between now and April 17.

"I don't have but a handful and those are it," Rocker said. "Carter, Fairley, Blanc, Goggans and Clayton. All those guys are seasoned guys and have played. The thing about them is we know they can play, we want to improve them and make sure they can get better. The thing we need is leadership, not just guys on the team.

"That's probably the most important thing is getting those guys up front to try to lead us and come to work every day. We've got 15 days. Let's just get better every day and make sure we're leading. In the process of being leaders don't be running your mouth just to be running it. Make it important when you say something. Those guys are important to us."

Nick Fairley catches his breath after Auburn's win over Northwestern.

While there are several veterans to build around, Rocker also has some talented young players to work with as well. Sophomore Derrick Lykes got some valuable experience last season as did fellow sophomore Dee Ford. Throw in redshirt freshman Nosa Eguae and true freshman Craig Sanders and Rocker said he's got something to work with this spring.

"I'm spending a lot of time with them," Rocker said. "They're getting a lot of detailed reps to help understand blocking and what they're trying to do on offense. That's what we're teaching them. I feel good. Nosa learns pretty fast and Derrick Lykes had some playing time and Dee Ford had some playing time. We've just got to get them better even faster. I feel good about them right now."

Even though he played a great deal last season, Fairley is going through his first spring practice with the Tigers after coming in from junior college during the summer. Because of that Rocker said he's seen the Mobile native really come on in terms of strength since last year and now he's working on him to become more consistent.

"He doesn't have a choice but to improve," Rocker said. "The approach is to try to get Nick to get better every day out there. That's every player out there. We don't want to sit here until the middle of the season like every other team and then decide that the team wants to meet and get everyone on board. Let's start now getting on board and preparing for the fall. That's what we're trying to do now.

"When you are departing from junior college or high school then you've got to break some habits," he added. "That's part of it. We spend a lot of time on how to play and about breaking those habits. As you saw, as the season ended last year he understood it a little more technique-wise and fundamental-wise. That's what's important for all of them up front. Dee Ford has made headway. Nosa has made headway. Now I've got Craig Sanders here now. Every day he's taking a step forward. I'm just showing him how to play. I don't question his effort or the want to about Craig Sanders. It's just knowing how to play."

Defensive end Craig Sanders is in his first spring practice for the Tigers.

Currently Sanders is lining up at the quick end position behind Carter and Ford while Eguae is on the strong end side with Goggans. With essentially three newcomers on the depth chart at end and a first-year player such as Fairley in the mix at tackle, Rocker said it has made the bowl practices and off-season conditioning much more important this year to get guys ready to play.

"From the bowl game to this off-season there has been headway with those guys," Rocker said. "That has been a great deal. The bowl practice helped all of them. Coach Yox (Kevin Yoxall) had them for nine weeks and he does his thing and here we go. You could tell guys were very in tune and had a clue about what we were talking about. That made us feel good about it."

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